Watching Dusty Baker end another baseball season without a ring has me a bit contemplative today.
No doubt I was pulling for Atlanta in the World Series. And it will likely be a long time before I ever pull for the Astros in anything. Yet I’ve watched Baker come close too many times to winning it all to not feel sorry for him falling short again. In 1993 he managed a 103-win team and yet missed the playoffs. In 2002 his Giants were up three games to two in the World Series over the Angels, led Game Six 5-0 in the 7th…and lost it all. He watched helplessly in 2003 as the Cubs imploded in the Bartman Game, and in Game 7 afterward. He made the playoffs numerous times with Cincinnati and Washington, only to lose in the first round.
And now he’s taken over the most unpopular baseball franchise and led them to Game 7 of the ALCS and then Game 6 of the World Series…only to again come up short.
I wish he had a ring. He deserves one. And it makes me think of all the other players and coaches in sports that I feel the same about. I’ll limit myself to just nine, or eight in addition to Baker. My criteria are simply players and coaches that were great and/or that I rooted for. Here they are, in no particular order:
If you look at the NFL passing record book, you’ll consistently see a bunch of QBs that have played in the last decade…and also Dan Marino. What he accomplished in 1984 and 1986 was unheard of at the time. And he was unmatched until the NFL made rule changes numerous times to help offenses. Marino retired with 120 more TDs and 10,000 more yards than anyone who started their career five years on either side of his. It’s mind-boggling to imagine what he could do in the modern NFL.
He never won a ring but played well in numerous playoff games. He set the AFC Championship Game record for yards in 1984-85 with 421 in a 45-28 win over Pittsburgh. And He engineered a comeback vs Cleveland the next year after being down 21-3. Many other times he had 250 yard or 3 TD games.
Marino also had some terrible luck, as great players do who retire ringless. In his rookie year, Miami led Seattle late in the 4th, 20-17. They gave up the go-ahead TD with about 2:00 left. And then Miami fumbled the kickoff. Seattle settled for a field goal to extend the lead to 27-20 with about 1:15 left. And then Miami fumbled the next kickoff. Marino literally never had a chance after losing the lead. He also lost a playoff game in the snow once in Buffalo 44-34.
Affectionately known as “The Big Cat” for his skill at playing first base, and known for his face-the-pitcher-to-see-better batting stance, I followed Galarraga from his humble beginnings in Montreal. I really took to him after he struggled in St. Louis and then rejuvenated his career in Colorado. After some had told him to retire. I watched with awe at his NL leading .370 batting average season, his 150-RBI season, numerous 40+ HR seasons, and his allegedly 570-foot grand slam off of Kevin Brown in 1997.
When he came to Atlanta, my favorite team at the time, I was ecstatic. And he continued his torrid hitting there, proving it wasn’t all Coors Field.
Yet he had so few postseason chances, he never was able to stand at the end as a champion. And I hate that for him.
More than Karl Malone, I really wanted to see Stockton win. Maybe it was because I was a short white kid who had to be scrappy to succeed at basketball. Whatever the reason, I can only marvel that a 6’1 man from Gonzaga is the all-time NBA leader in assists AND steals. To boot, he’s nearly 4,000 assists and 600 steals ahead of the #2 guy on each list (Jason Kidd on both). And he has higher per-game averages than Kidd for both, meaning these aren’t volume stats.
Stockton was known as a fiery and even dirty player at times. But all that passing and stealing and illegal screening couldn’t garner him a ring. His best chances in 1997 and 1998 were blocked by Michael Jordan. Such heartbreaking losses.
A unique entry in this list because he was a rival to my Gamecocks. But to watch him have countless 10-win seasons at Georgia and Miami and never to have won it all…it’s tough. I confess I also have him on here because of his faith, which draws me to him.
He had a great chance in 2002, but losing to Florida kept them out of the championship game (when numerous 1-loss teams have gotten that chance most years in college football history). In 2007 they had to be really kicking themselves for an inexplicable loss to USC in September, which kept them from the SEC East and hence, a shot at the title.
But 2012 was the worst. They lost 32-28 to Bama and were just a few yards and one unfortunate tipped pass away from winning that game. I have no doubt they’d have crushed Notre Dame in January just as Alabama did.
One last time in 2017 I thought he had a championship in view with Miami, rising to #2 in the polls in November. But a late-season swoon prevented it. Yet the man clearly deserves a championship to me.
No-MAH (Boston accent) is probably my favorite baseball player of all time. I loved him from the first time I watched him play for the College National Championship at Georgia Tech (with Jason Varitek, who was also his teammate in Boston). I smiled at his OCD batting gloves adjustment between every pitch. And I marveled at his back-to-back batting titles when I was foolish enough in the Summer of 2000 to think he was going to hit .400.
And I wept as he played well so often for the Red Sox in the playoffs only to be denied the biggest stage.
I really thought when the Cubs got him in 2004, that was it. He was headed for World Series glory. Yet the Cubs collapsed at the end of that season and missed the postseason entirely. And Garciappara never did win, even with L.A. years later. Truly a shame.
I confess I’m partial to Reeves because he played college football at South Carolina. But any objective viewer can see that Reeves was a coach that was successful…until it came to the Super Bowl. Four times he made and none were close. Yet, he coached 190 wins in the NFL and had a winning record with three different franchises, taking two to the Big Game. He was simply overmatched every time. Yet any man who takes the Falcons that far deserves respect and I wish he could have just once held the Lombardi trophy as a coach.
Thankfully, like Dusty Baker, he at least won a ring as a player.
I don’t know that I cared so much during Barkley’s playing career that he never won. But as he has flourished in his second career in the media, I confess I have grown to love him. And retroactively hate it that he never won.
My feelings aside, however, he was a phenomenal player. One of the few to average 22 PPG and 11 RPG for his career, while shooting 54%, his numbers speak for themselves. They are the stats of a man who should have won at minimum a ring or two.
I never pulled for Tony Gwynn. But if any athlete belongs here merely from earning my respect, it is him. The 8-time (EIGHT TIME!) batting champ came as close to .400 as any player since Ted Williams. He was a hitting machine.
Yet he had only two World Series chances and was blown out both times. I admire him for staying in San Diego all those years, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been if a different California team had gotten him.
So there’s my list. Who would you put on yours? Who deserved a ring but never got one?